Integrity: The Foundation of Leadership

Quick! What is the most important trait for a leader to possess?

Enthusiasm?

Vision?

Inspiration?

Confidence?

While those are all great guesses, research indicates integrity is the most essential quality needed to be an effective leader.

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

Think about the leaders you currently work for or have worked for in the past.

Are these leaders honest?

Do they have strong moral principles?

Unfortunately, too many educational leaders lack these virtues. Rather than model these qualities, they build a reputation for being unprofessional, immoral, and dishonest.

Don’t believe me? Google search the words “principal fired.” You will be shocked by the thousands of stories about principals who have made a name for themselves for the wrong reasons.

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Beyond honesty and strong moral principles, what are the characteristics of a virtuous school leader? Consider the five examples below:

Leaders with integrity...

Eliminate workplace politics. When they notice harmful behavior, honorable leaders immediately address the issue. They make decisions based on deeply-held organizational values, not self-serving behaviors.

Practice transparent decision-making. They openly share the decision-making process and clearly explain the rationale behind a decision, helping to remove staff skepticism and cynicism.

Apologize. It takes a great deal of character to apologize. Noble leaders recognize when they make a mistake and take ownership by genuinely apologizing to those hurt by the action.

Admit when they don't know something. Instead of claiming to have all the answers, leaders with integrity understand their weaknesses and work hard to attract people who can fill those gaps.

Walk the walk. These leaders don't make empty promises, they follow through on their commitments. Ethical leaders are visible in day-to-day undertakings, and model the values they expect.

School administrators must understand they are held to a higher level of responsibility. Leaders must model the behaviors and attitudes they expect from their followers. Just as children emulate the behavior of their parents, so do employees when observing the conduct of their bosses.

People do what they see.

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Integrity has a way of revealing itself when people are given increased authority.

The more power employees are given, the more their integrity is on display.

Whereas some people stay true to the values they had before attaining a leadership position, others feel entitled to act differently and abuse their power.

At times school districts will make a hire, only to realize the new leader lacks integrity a short time later. Those who made the hire then act shocked that at the new hire’s lack of honesty.

This should never happen.

There are always signs of character flaws if an interview committee looks closely enough. That is why several reference checks - both formal and informal - play such a key role in leadership hires.

So often we think power changes people, when in fact it simply reveals more of who they are.


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Integrity is the foundation of leadership.

Employees will tolerate honest mistakes and forgive occasional blunders.

But they won't trust someone who slips in character.

Leaders must treat integrity as their most precious asset.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.